First Church Unitarian Universalist was established in 1743. Like many first churches the parish was begun at the same time as a new town was wanting to be established. Leominster was carved out the town of Lancaster, which had been incorporated in 1653. Sixteen founders of the town and of the parish began the parish in 1741 the church being established legally in 1743.One of the terms of the act of incorporation of any new town required the citizens to erect a meeting house and hire and maintain a “Godly” minister. The first meeting house was erected in 1741 and was in use until 1775.
The first minister was John Rogers, he was ordained by the church in 1743 and served for 15 years. Theological controversy emerged at the end of his ministry which caused the Parish to split into two groups. Those who followed John Rogers still had to pay their tax to maintain First Church as well as to support the formation of the second parish/precinct with John Rogers.
Rev. Francis Gardner was called as the second minister. He served for 42 years until 1814. During his ministry the second meeting house was built on the Common. It is there that John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed and his sister were christened before moving away to Agawam MA.
the third meeting house was built on the Common in December of 1821 completed in 1823. A part of the Common, which belonged to the church was separated off and deeded to the town in 1841. The third meeting house burnt to the ground in 1903. The fourth and current church was built on the site of the third meeting house. This granite building was completed in 1904.
There have been in the 263 year history many important events surrounding the church. The separation of church and state occurred in 1835. Until then the town managed the parochial affairs of the church until then. On May 4 1835 the legal name of became “The First Congregational Society of Leominster.” it was also in the 1830’s that the church ceded land for the town hall and the fire station.
Many ministers and congregants from the past served in various roles of importance in the town, city and in the state and beyond. One of the ministers Rufus Stebbins became president of the American Unitarian Association and President of Meadville Theological School. Others became Chaplains during the Civil War, active in the abolitionist movement, trustees of colleges, leaders in Religious Education, authors of books about the King Phillip’s war, a Chaplain of Massachusetts Senate.
The first Boy Scout troop in Leominster was formed and organized at First Church when one of the ministers met Adam Clayton Powell.
One of our members though she did not always claim to be so, was Frances Drake. Frances Drake is known for her ardent abolitionist work and her work toward women’s rights. Mark Bodanza, a local historian published a book, in 2011 about Frances and her husband and their work in this area.
The history of First Church is rich and varied. A loose leaf booklet was published in 1993 on the 250th anniversary of the Church, by the Historical Committee comprised of Edmund Willrich, Sherwin Drury, Barbara Doyle, Keith Lauer, Marjorie Rogers, Rev Susan Suchocki. Copies are available for review to anyone who is interested.
It is the belief of Rev. Susan who wrote this short section that history should remain open and ongoing so that it continues to reflect the vitality of the church.